Betty Thomas (born Betty Lucille Nienhauser, July 27, 1947) is an American actress and director of television and motion pictures. She is known for her Emmy-award winning role as Lucy Bates on the television series Hill Street Blues. As of March 2018, Thomas is one of just two directors to have multiple films on the list of seventeen highest-US-grossing female-directed films, and the only one not to have male co-directors.
Thomas was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1947 to Nancy (née Brown) and William H. Nienhauser, Sr. She graduated from South High School, Willoughby, Ohio, in 1965. After high school Thomas attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Upon graduating Thomas worked as an artist and taught high school before becoming a part of The Second City Chicago premiere source for improvisational theater. She took her professional surname from her marriage to Douglas Thomas.
Thomas came to her entertainment career by a circuitous route. While working as an artist and school teacher she became a waitress at The Second City to earn extra cash for a trip abroad. While waiting tables Thomas was encouraged to try out for the troupe, and subsequently joined the company. She was praised for her brassy and outspoken performances; she also worked with several up and coming Second City alumni, most notably Bill Murray. When The Second City opened a Los Angeles branch, Thomas moved west.
Upon her arrival in Los Angeles Thomas received many bit parts in low-budget films like Chesty Anderson, USN (1976), the Robert Zemeckis film Used Cars (1980) as well as sketch comedy films like Tunnel Vision (1975), and Loose Shoes (1980) the latter of which featuring Second City classmate Bill Murray. She appeared in the 1989 film Troop Beverly Hills, starring Shelley Long.
While Thomas had been building her career in comedy, her breakthrough role as an actress came when she was cast in the dramatic role of police officer (later Sergeant) Lucille Bates on the TV series Hill Street Blues (1981–87). Over the course of the series her character goes from inexperienced rookie to confident sergeant. She received seven Emmy nominations for best supporting actress, and took home the award for the 1984–1985 season.
After making several other acting appearances, Thomas began directing episodes of Hooperman in addition to the premiere episodes of Doogie Howser, M.D. in 1989. She went on to direct episodes of Arresting Behavior and several episodes of the HBO series Dream On, the latter of which earned her an Emmy for best director.
In 1992 Thomas took the next step in her directing career with her feature debut Only You. A slight, playful romantic comedy; Only You was a departure from Thomas's experience on Hill Street Blues or her subsequent television directing. Wayne Rice, the film's producer and screenwriter, said that Thomas was chosen to direct due in part to the film's plot in which a man is on a hapless quest to find the perfect woman would be considered inherently sexist without a female director.
Three years following the release of Only You Thomas directed The Brady Bunch Movie (1995). A satirical vision of the 1970s television series The Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch Movie was a box office hit with domestic ticket sales of $46,576,136, nearly quadrupling its $12,000,000 budget and making it at the time one of the highest-grossing films directed by a woman.
She followed The Brady Bunch Movie with other successes, including Private Parts (1997), Dr. Dolittle (1998), 28 Days (2000), and John Tucker Must Die (2006). 2009's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel became the first female-directed picture to gross more than $200 million and made her the most successful woman director to that time at the box office. In 2012, Thomas directed a low-budget online series called Audrey for the WIGS YouTube channel.
|Year||Film||Role||Director / creator||Notes|
|1976||Tunnel Vision||Bridgit Bert Richards||Neal Israel, Bradley R. Swirnoff|
|1976||Jackson County Jail||Waitress||Michael Miller|
|1976||The Last Affair||Henri Charr|
|1976||Chest Anderson U.S. Navy||Party Guest #1||Ed Forsyth|
|1977||Dog and Cat||Waitress||Bob Kelljan|
|1978||C.P.O. Sharkey||Seaman Daley||Aaron Ruben|
|1978||Outside Chance||Katherine||Michael Miller|
|1980||Used Cars||Bunny||Robert Zemeckis|
|1980||Loose Shoes||Biker Chic #1||Ira Miller|
|1981||The Nashville Grab||Maxine Pearce||James L. Conway|
|1982||Twilight Theater||Perry Rosemond|
|1982||Homework||Reddogs Secretary||James Beshears|
|1983||When Your Lover Leaves||Maude||Jeff Bleckner|
|1985||ABC Afterschool Specials||Dr. Mary Lewis||Guy Fraumeni|
|1987||Prison for Children||Angela Brannon||Larry Peerce|
|1981–87||Hill Street Blues||Sgt. Lucy Bates||Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll||Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, 1985|
|1989||The Tracey Ullman Show||Miss Belts, Gym Teacher||Ted Bessell, Art Wolff|
|1989||Troop Beverly Hills||Velda Plendor||Jeff Kanew|
|1989||Hooperman||Director||Episodes: "Goodnight, Sweet Hooperman", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Morning and Night", "In the Still of My Pants"|
|1989||Doogie Howser, M.D.||Director||Episodes: "Doogie The Red-Nosed Reindeer", "The Ice Queen Cometh"|
|1990||Mancuso, FBI||Director||Episodes: "Night of the Living Shred", "Shiva Me Timbers", "Murder of Pearl"|
|1990||Parenthood||Director||Episodes: "Thanksgiving with a T that Rhymes with B that Stands for Basketball", "I Never Invested for My Father"|
|1991||Sons and Daughters||Director||TV series|
|1991||Midnight Caller||Director||Episode: "Her Dirty Little Secret"|
|1991||Shannon's Deal||Director||Episode: "Matrimony"|
|1992||On the Air||Director||TV Mini-series: Episode #1.6|
|1994||My Breast||Director||TV film|
|1996||The Late Shift||Director||TV film|
|1990–96||Dream On||Director||Directed 18 episodes, Won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, 1993|
|2001||Silicon Follies||Director||TV film|
|2003||Senor White||Director||TV film|
|2006||That Guy||Director||TV film|
|2006||The Loop||Director||Pilot episode|
|2007||Dash 4 Cash||Director||TV film|
|1992||Only You||Director||Feature film debut|
|1995||The Brady Bunch Movie||Director||One of the highest-grossing films directed by a woman|
|1997||Private Parts||Director||adaptation of Howard Stern's autobiography|
|1998||Dr. Dolittle||Director||$294 million in box office gross|
|2006||John Tucker Must Die||Director|
|2009||Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel||Director||$443 million in box office gross|